I have written poetry most of my life.  Most of my poetry is not for public consumption because it is so personal.  My father asked me to burn my poems during the summer between 8th Grade and High School.  He thought they said too much, too much that was shameful.  With my father, I sat in the boiler room of the building he owned, while he tossed my poems, one-by-one into the furnace fire.  He would read the title out loud and shake his head, and toss the paper with the poem on it, into the fire.

In Junior High I had written a few poem/songs with Jeff who played lead guitar in a band that I sang with.  "Eight-Cornered Mind" came from an argument I had with my father.  I was sent to my room.  As I lay on my back, I started to think about my being grounded and living in this square room.  I counted all the corners in the in the room and they added up to 8.  I wanted my father to try to live in this eight-cornered space and see how much he liked it.


You're living alone in your eight-cornered mind
it's the only refuge a man like you can find
an eight-cornered mind
an eight-cornered mind

I studied piano and voice, my education was classical and my personal passion was for folk, jazz, showtunes, bluegrass.  Through the Chicago radio show "Midnight Special" I became familiar with Odetta, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughan.  Link to the history of The Midnight Special.  http://www.midnightspecial.org/...

Jeff and I often listened-to and emulated bands like "The Small Faces".  Here's their "Itchycoo Park" a bubble-gum lightweight tune.   http://www.youtube.com/...

I would have written this tribute to Lorrie Jackson in the fall of 2010, the 20th anniversary of her death, but I spent most of last year in the intensive care, in-and-out of comas, on ventilators and heavily sedated with morphine and dilaudid.  I was indisposed, so to speak.  So this is a belated diary.

I don't write poetry as a daily discipline, but I should.  I never wanted to diary my life because it was naked writing and I needed to veil my thoughts and actions.  Poetry was the perfect vehicle for my journey through life.  I have a small black moleskin book from yhe Shakespeare & Co. bookstore in Paris and in it are the sparse, minimalist poems that I am inspired to write every now and then.  I transcribe the poems into the bound moleskin book with an ink Pelikan pen and I use black ink from a bottle.  

It was 1990 when I met Chicago poet Lorrie Jackson.  I can't remember the exact venue. But it was in Wicker Park or Wicked Park, as the cognoscenti called the area around a smallish city park.  The park called Wicker Park, in Wicker Park, was surrounded by mostly Victorian houses in various stages of deterioration and rehabilitation.  This had been the playground for the trysts between Nelson Algren and his lover Simone de Beauvoir.

I was given an office in what was known as the "Around the Coyote' building on Milwaukee, North Avenue,and Damen.  A real estate developer asked me to move into one of the Victorian houses in Wicker Park and to have an office in the iconic Art Deco "Around the Coyote" building.  It was all rent free, but I had to wear black.  Seriously.  I was told to look "New York" because the developer wanted to gentrify the area.  Out with the old community of mostly the indigent and latinos, and in with the new art community - Around the Coyote.  Here's the an article in the READER about the end of Around the Coyote.  http://www.chicagoreader.com/...

At one of the bars steps away from Around the Coyote:  Estelles, The Hot House, or the Borderline, was the first time I heard Lorrie Jackson's performance pieces.  She was an older woman, about 40-ish, with dark hair and dark eyes.  Her poetry and performance were even darker.  I have needed the shield of poetry to express the dark places in my life and in my soul.  Lorrie Jackson didn't need that.  Her words, raw and angry, came at me like a hail of bullets.  Lorrie Jackson's words pierced and wounded.  She demurred with the force of a hailstorm on a new car, the gentrification of her Wicker Park.

She saw me in the audience and she let me know I was on her turf.  She was the real artist.  I was the ersatz, the oleo spread.  While onstage, Lorre Jackson took a swipe at me and decried the black-clothed clergy of gentrification artists who were pushing out the pioneer artists.  I had barely been in Wicker Park a few weeks and I was already getting a bad rep.

For Lorrie Jackson and the other artist pioneers in Wicker Park, art was their only gig.  They lived and died for their art.  They were all looking not to sell-out, but to be found-out and celebrated for their artistic vision.  All kinds of artists, using various mediums: acting, dancing, visual, sculptural, literary, musical, multi-media...came to WeWe (West of Western) aka Wicker Park to escape the commercialization and high rents of Old Town.  Ad lib comedy groups sprang up to compete with Old Town's Second City.  In 1990 Wicker Park was the place to be and to be seen.  

Lorrie Jackson was an outlaw, mavrick, and was more a myth than a mortal.  I don't know how much of the stories about her are true because I never knew anyone who actually knew about Lorrie Jackson's personal life.  So all I have are the memories her performance pieces and the rumors.

Lorrie Jackson killed herself, it was believed to be a suicide, shortly after I heard her for the first time and she recited the poem, My Mouth is a Hole in My Face.

Her words were powerful.  But even so, I think most people couldn't see that Lorrie Jackson's frank talk-poetry was a metaphor.  Lorrie Jackson didn't just do performance poetry, Lorrie Jackson's veiled soul could be seen in her poetry.

After her suicide in the Fall of 1990, stories began to surface that Lorrie Jackson was a survivor of sexual abuse.  It was not news to me.  I heard that small girl's voice using the megaphone of a big girl's poetry.  In her poetry I heard a small girl's soft cry and not the big girl's raspy voice.  I heard her asking for love and no one answering.

Lorrie Jackson's poem, My Mouth is a Hole in My Face, was in many ways her last message to her audience.  It was her last cry for unconditional love.

That's why I don't write poetry very often.  I don't want to go the those dark places and cry out for help, just to find out that there's no one listening and hearing my cries for help.  I'm afraid no one who will go into those dark places to save me.

I look into the night sky and I believe that Lorrie Jackson's soul and the electrons from the molecules of her decomposing human shell, are journeying among the stars.

Originally posted to Aidos on Tue May 10, 2011 at 04:11 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.


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